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Names and Meanings
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Actually, little people screamed.
The school-bus was hurtling down the street, the kids inside it were either screaming in delight as if they had suddenly found themselves in a rollercoaster or actually yelling in terror at the pursuit.
A fierce woman in leather jacket drove her bike next to the school-bus driver and pulled out a shotgun at him. He was startled to see her and swerved to the side, taking a whole traffic light with him.
Another woman, much smaller and younger than the first, drove between the shotgun and the school-bus and slapped the gun down, yelling, “Are you nuts? There are kids in there!”
“I wasn’t going to fire,” said the fierce woman and gritted her teeth.
“Accidents happen you know.” The small woman clicked their intercom back to broad channel and ordered, “Everybody, no guns for any reason whatsoever. I’m going in, keep up the pursuit until I handle this. Bremusa is in charge.” Bremusa, which means the raging female, straightened her back at that and watched the group’s locations on her smarthelmet. She began sending out commands, bellowing orders and telling each and every one of the ladies to move their fat asses.
Other bikers, closed in from every lane, all women, all dressed in leather and combat gear. They were behind and in front of the school-bus, in tight escort and clearing the highway ahead. The two leading bikes were honking at various intervals, but they didn’t have to do it that much despite the terrible traffic. People knew that when they saw them they better veer away.
The school-bus driver spat a curse at her and swerved left to bump her bike. She was too preoccupied with talking to the others that she didn’t react in time, and would be pushed to the side at 100 km/h. If she was lucky that is. It was also probable she would get caught under the school-bus’ wheels and get chomped instantly by the sheer weight.
“Antioche!” Bremusa bellowed and leaned towards her. The school-bus pushed the smaller woman’s bike to the side, she managed to correct her course, but she was too late. Bremusa grabbed her as she was falling and held her close, leaning her bike the other way for counterbalance. Antioche stood at an angle on the bike, holding onto Bremusa’s hand. They were like a circus performance, doing stunts on bikes at high speeds. Her bike fishtailed behind and slammed hard on a wall with a loud rending of metal. There was no explosion.
“Get me closer!” Antioche said and Bremusa sighed. She did as she was told, and Antioche grabbed onto the school-bus and pushed herself up a window.
Little faces stared at her from inside, with snotty noses and missing teeth. Some of them had their phones out, ridiculously large in their tiny hands, recording the madwoman who was dangling outside their window while they hurtled on the highway.
The fierce woman straightened her bike and kept steady. “Thank you for saving my life Bremusa. I acknowledge how good a lieutenant you are Bremusa. My, what big strong hands you have Bremusa,” she mumbled to herself, gripping the steering wheel.
Antioche was grabbing on for dear life and was slapping the window. “Open the window! Come on you little shits.”
A little boy with ears sticking out, jerked back and hid under the seat.
The school-bus driver took out a gun and pointed it back at Antioche, who didn’t notice and was still holding on precariously. He was driving with his left hand and crossing the right hand, pointing the gun behind him blindly, taking peeks at the mirror.
Bremusa snarled and took off her helmet. She grabbed it by the leash and slammed it on the school-bus’ mirror, smashing it and sending shards of glass everywhere. She knew she couldn’t simultaneously drive, smash the mirror and protect her face so she just closed her eyes hard and hoped not to get blinded. She felt a few warm pinpricks on her face and pulled her smarthelmet back on, wincing as she did. Some little pieces of glass had stuck on her face and the helmet turned them into nice slicing knives. Nevermind that, she could handle a few scars. Not having a helmet at this speed would make her face peel off on the street if she fell.
She glanced back and saw Antioche still slapping the window, holding on to the side of the school-bus. She snarled in the intercom, “Melousa, throw a candybar at Antioche, now!”
Melousa, the sweet one, protested, “I don’t have any-”
“NOW! Or I’ll chain up your fridge you thick-skinned pachyderm,” bellowed Antioche into the comms.
Melousa pushed her lower lip up and revved up her Harley. She stuck her soft chubby hand in a pocket.
A candy bar flew in the air parallel to the school-bus’ windows, rotated a few times and got snatched by Antioche. She slapped her gloved palm in the glass and held it there. The kids saw the candy bar and got excited. Any shred of hesitation they might have had up to now evaporated, and they rushed in to open the window. Antioche pushed her slender upper body inside and threw the candy bar on the seat away from her.
The kids cheered and fought about who would get a piece.
Antioche got in the school-bus and moved towards the driver. He pointed his gun at her.
Bremusa watched her as she stood there, arms raised. She knew that Antioche would never dare to dodge incoming fire in this situation. The risk of hitting a child was too high. “Dammit, dammit,” she hissed and bit her lip. Bremousa knew that her leader would rather stay still and take a bullet than endanger kids. She leaned into the shotgun holster and gripped her weapon, hesitating. Her leader had just directly forbidden her from pulling out guns. But she was in danger, a mortal one. Maybe she could disobey her this time. It’s not like Antioche could think ahead for every possible contingency. She hadn’t planned for that.
Bremusa shook her head and relaxed her grip. No, she couldn’t risk it. Even if she saved her, even if she was nowhere near endangering the kids from shotgun fire, Antioche would beat her down senseless.
“Dammit!” she hissed once more and grabbed the shotgun. “Do not engage,” she ordered the others and folded open the shotgun with a swift one-handed motion that made the shells fall on the asphalt and disappear behind.
They were running close to a bend now, and she had to act fast because it might change the situation when they got there. Not to mention that the driver might fire at any second.
Bremusa could hear him from Antioche’s intercom. He was nervous, breathing hard. He was trying to divide his attention in driving the school-bus at great speeds and threatening Antioche with his gun. “This was your big plan little girl? You come in here, then what, huh?”
Antioche had her arms up in surrender, but she was holding her ground. Not only that, she was actually covering the children with her lithe body. To do that, she took a step forward to lessen the gun’s possible angle of spread. “Yeah. You got me. Here, you have a hostage now, let the kids go. I’m a small skinny girl, surely a big man like you can handle me easily,” she told him, the words dripping with innuendo.
“Oh no, she’s trying to flirt,” Bremusa said to herself. She turned on the comms. “Everybody be alert.”
“Oh yeah?” the driver said. He hesitated for a few seconds, watching the road and craning his neck back at her. “Maybe I won’t. Maybe… I’ll just shoot you right here and now.”
“There’s no reason for anyone to get hurt. Take me as a hostage, I swear I won’t resist. I’ll order the rest to back down so you can let the kids at a sidewalk, and then we can go wherever your plan is. You and me. Whaddaya say?”
“Lemme see. Noble, but no. You want to die so much for these kids, here you go then.”
“Oh skata,” Antioche said and covered her face instinctively.
Bremusa steered closer to the school-bus and knocked on the driver’s door with the tip of her shotgun, as if it was a house’s door and she had brought wine. “Hey dick face,” she snarled at him and she caught his attention. She nodded with her helmet down-wards and the driver saw the shotgun that was pointed straight at his crotch.
He was startled, veered right in an attempt to put some distance between his balls and the angry lady and at that point, his lungs lost access to oxygen.
Antioche was spread on the dashboard, choking him with her legs and holding the steering wheel steady, her head tilted sideways and trying to mind the road. As the school-bus jerked from one side to the other and the man fought her, her helmet was banging in rhythm on the plastic and Bremusa could hear it popping the mic.
The driver was getting redder by the second, he thrashed and flailed his arms around trying to grab Antioche but she wasn’t letting him go. He managed a punch at her side and she winced for a moment, loosening her grip on him as he took in a breath. He tried to push her thighs away from his throat, then tried to dig his nails in her skin but her motorcycle suit protected her.
His movements were becoming slower, and she leaned close, putting all her strength in the chokehold until he dropped unconscious to the side. The kids wooed and aah’d. She pulled herself straight up, took off her helmet and steadied the school-bus.
Antioche’s hair fell on her shoulders and they were a brilliant shade of blonde. She adjusted the mirror to her height and smiled at the children, who were all staring at her and snotting their sleeves. “It’s all right now. The bad man is sleeping, you are safe.”
Antioche nodded at Bremusa. The leading rider gave an order to stand down and the convoy of bikes came into an easy formation as they rolled down the highway, all tension gone from their shoulders.
One female rider, who stood out like a jester in a fancy-suit restaurant drove next to Bremusa. She had a flamboyant yellow bike and had a red helmet with fluffy ears on it. An action camera was strapped on the helmet, and she turned her head towards the victorious Antioche.
Antioche waved at the camera and made a thumbs up gesture, smiling for the audience.
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Aura leapt down the stairs two-by-two and almost slammed her face on the bend.
Her mother came next to her and grabbed her by the arm. “What is this sort of entrance? Behave young lady!”
“As if anybody bothers with me. All they wanna see is dad anyway. Don’t care,” she said in the tone of voice teenagers adopt when whining like that.
Mother patted Aura’s hair down and pulled her rebellious clothes in check. Aura was wincing and pulling away every time like a cat avoiding a bath. Mother muttered, “I told you to wear that top with the deep décolletage. Show them while you have them dear, it will be much harder and more expensive after a few years, trust me. What is this fabric? We have Andre on call you know, you must sit down with him and let him pick some clothes for you.”
Aura was dragged into the centre of the gathering. Everyone was bunched up in a corner, around the place with the band instruments. A middle-aged man with meticulous hair and a custom-tailored suit was finishing his solo on the bouzouki. His voice was deep, the microphone was on the precise position to fit his height, the audio set up on the mixer to bring out the best inflections in his voice, the speakers top-notch and arranged for the precise amount of people attending. The band-instrument corner was lit from a permanent arrangement on the ceiling and across the room, to light him up perfectly, hide what little double-chin the years had brought on him, and make him look like a star.
Everybody clapped and cheered. The crowd opened and let Aura and her mother space to approach.
Mother said to everyone, “What a performance! My husband didn’t want to sing today but he couldn’t say no to you, could he?”
People smiled and said no in unison.
Aura went up to her father and the phones already recording the impromptu performance were now focused on them both. Flashes fired.
Tony Nightingale grabbed his daughter in a fatherly tight hug and said to the people, “My lovely daughter, top of her class! Couldn’t be any more proud than that.”
A man asked, “Will Aura follow in your footsteps and record an album anytime soon?”
Other people looked at her in anticipation, “Yeah, will she?”
Tony looked at Aura in the eyes and smiled. “Well. If Dionysos wishes to. Who are we to deny him such pleasure, right?”
People applauded. As Tony stepped down they spread across the room again, in the relaxed groups that people in parties usually tend to form.
Tony held Aura by the hand and brought her to a group of supermodels and pop stars.
The group of teens had hundreds of millions of followers between them, about a hundred fan sites and topping the charts regularly.
Every single one of them signed and owned by Dionysos Entertainment of course.
Aura forced a smile at them and said simply, “Hey…”
“I bet your classmates are wondering where you’ve been since they came to the party!” Tony said, practically shoving her into the group. He turned to them, “I’m sure her mother said something to her like, arrive late, leave early, that sort of thing,” and laughed. Everyone laughed along.
“Haha,” Aura added like a dead fish.
“Yeah, make a splash!” one of the superperfect girls said.
Viko hesitated for a moment and then walked up to Tony. He showed his phone and said, “Should we pay tribute?”
Tony smiled and put a hand on Viko’s shoulder. “Of course. We all know Dionysos can never have enough tributes, don’t we?”
The group laughed and agreed. Viko took the selfie with the legendary Tony Nightingale and sent it up to the digital cloud, tagging it with #dionysos.
“Right! But this is your own party dear, not mine alone. Here, I’ll let you youngsters alone, I know that you are dangerously near the recommended exposure to old-people,” Tony said, and they all laughed at the joke with perfect smiles showing perfect teeth.
“Riiight…” Aura said, and she was left with her frenemies.
“So, won’t you sing for us tonight Aura?” a blonde girl said. Her name was Desha or something, a made-up name that Dionysos’ analysts had come up with to force the next Madonna to the market.
Aura squinted at her and said, “No, I’ll save it for the recording room. You know, make a splash and everything.” She pantomimed the effect with both open palms.
“That’s cool,” Desha said and laughed. The girl laughed at everything.
Aura wanted to yell in her face but decided against that. She took in a couple of deep breaths and then snatched a drink, non-alcoholic of course, from a server who was too delighted to be there amongst the pop idols.
She gulped it down and burped.
Desha of course giggled at that.
The boys high-fived her and for a moment, Aura thought about leaving them hanging. But she high-fived them in clockwise order while making sure she was totally bored by this.
She wasn’t bored. The teen supermodel-slash-former-child-actor-slash-pop-singer in front of her had a six-pack that Aura dreamed about every day. Not that hard to do since she had his poster glued on her ceiling over her bed, so the first thing she saw when waking up every day was him on top of her.
Aura blushed bright red. She took another non-alcoholic drink that Tony Nightingale endorsed in bill boards and video ads, and turned her face to the side, throwing tufts of her hair down to hide her face.
Viko, the teen guy from the poster stepped close to her and tried to strike up a conversation with her. Aura tried to avoid that.
She thought that there were teen girls, as well as plenty of older ladies, who would have killed without second thought for a chance to stand so close to Viko, let alone have his attention.
Aura sighed and glanced around the room. Yup, her mother had arranged that. She didn’t know what she had told the young man, but it had worked. People were taking selfies of themselves but tilting their pose to get the young pair framed in the background.
This was already up on social media.
“How are you Aura?” Viko said. “I see you at music classes but you don’t really participate or hang out with us. I send you an e-vite on my last party, didn’t you get it?”
The girls behind Viko were on their phones. Latest tech of course, sponsored by Hermes Information Technology and given to them to advertise the latest model to the teen masses. They were standing beside one another, tapping away at their screens, but Aura knew they were gossiping about her.
She played with her hair and told Viko, “Yeah, must have been lost or something. Spam, you know?” She was so uncomfortable.
He, on the other hand, was relaxed and confident. Extremely confident for such a young man, but fame gets to your head. Now that he was close enough, Aura could see that he was wearing makeup. Airbrushed invisible makeup, but makeup nonetheless. “I’ll text you directly next time then,” he said and touched her on the cheek.
Touched. Her. On. The. Cheek.
Aura would never wash that cheek again.
“Okay,” she wheezed out and met his gaze for a moment.
She could see Desha and her stupid supermodel friend mouthing O-M-G.
“Perfect. Can’t wait to show you my pool.”
Aura thought about wearing a bikini next to those supermodel-perfect girls who giggled at everything and perched up their butts nicely and made their boobs bounce with every step.
She would rather die.
Aura smiled and mumbled some excuse and went away. She went in the kitchen, past the chefs and the sous chefs and the waiters and got into the pantry, and shut the door.
Yes, it was a closet, and she shut herself inside like a little girl.
She picked up her phone and called her only friend.
“Oh hi,” a young voice said that was deep and melodious like her father’s.
“Orestes! Where the fuck are you?” she angry-whispered.
“I’m on my way. I thought you said you’d attend the party later.”
“I was planning to. But mama sent a poor servant every three minutes to knock on my door, and after a while he was crying that he was gonna lose his job. I had to come down,” Aura explained.
Orestes was speechless. “I’m not sure what to say to that.”
“Don’t say anything! Just come here so that I have a regular person to talk to till the end of this hellish party.”
“You are in the closet aren’t you?” Orestes said, certain of the answer.
“Pantry,” Aura said with surrendered fury through her teeth. “There’s pickles and everything. Smells have seeped into my panties. Mama won’t look in here.”
“I’m on my way.”
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“Lemme go you snotty, filthy animals!” cried out Antioche, but she was smiling. The kids had grouped up around her and were hugging her with their little arms.
They had parked in front of the orphanage. It wasn’t really an orphanage the way people picture it, those things didn’t exist anymore except in general terms. This was an SOS Children’s Village, a non-profit that housed orphans or abused children and took care of them.
A Mother, one of the caretakers of the SOS Village came close to the Amazons and bowed, her arms extended. She was of African origin, perhaps a Greek-Nigerian. “Thank you, warrior, for bringing my children home safe.”
“Yeah-yeah, take your midgets off me!” said Antioche but was patting their heads, messing up their hair and still smiling, all in direct contrast to her words.
Bremusa stood next to her leader and crossed her arms, feeling proud of her. The kids had gone to ambush their Mother now, so she leaned close to Antioche and said, “I didn’t see you actually struggling against their hugs.”
Antioche scoffed. She addressed the Mother and pointed a thumb back at the school-bus, “Keys are in the ignition. I think it’s safe to drive, but if there was any damage send an email to Artemis and ask for repairs.”
The black woman was hugging and kissing her children, tears in her eyes. “You’ve done more than I could ask for.”
Antioche turned around and walked back to the rest of the team, who was enjoying the sun, laying back on their bike’s seats. The second team had split already, these were only the ones under her direct command.
Bremusa fell to her side as always.
“Can you believe those charity guys? If it were me, I’d charge us a wax job, an oil-change, an ecologic interior cleaning. Something. Everything!” Antioche muttered as she walked.
“I think that’s what makes them suitable for charity work and us, well, unsuitable,” Bremusa said grinning.
They got to the rest of the team. Antioche’s body language changed, and the team sensed it. They didn’t stand attention or anything, but their eyes were all focused on their leader.
Melousa the chubby Amazon discreetly put something away in a pocket.
Orosa sat upright on her tall bike’s seat, alert, but appeared bored. She was only a temporary member of Antioche’s crew, a camerawoman to record the team’s exploits and put them up online. She had to follow her orders but wasn’t a regular teammate.
Antioche glanced back to the SOS Village, saw that the kids were safely inside and out of sight and squeezed her fists. Bremusa could see it coming a mile away. She didn't try to avoid it. As Bremusa was casually stepping behind her, Antioche spun and punched her hard on the face.
Bremusa fell on her back and stayed down. Her leader sat on her and punched her again and again, but she wasn’t fighting back, just covering her face with her arms.
“Didn’t I order no guns? Are you fucking deaf you bitch? There were kids everywhere,” Antioche screamed in her face. “Why did you pull your shotgun? Against my direct order? Why?” The woman was red with anger, leaning down over her subordinate, veins pulsing in her throat. Her blonde hair had fallen forward over Bremusa’s bloodied face and she was breathing hard, as if she was the one taking the blows, as if she was the one hurting.
Melousa extended a hand in protest as if to stop her leader but she didn’t dare say or move any closer.
Orosa was just watching. Her expression blank but eyes focused on Antioche.
Bremusa was staring at her leader with killer eyes. She was the fierce warrior after all. She was keeping down the tidal wave of fury, the instinct to preserve oneself, with merely her own will keeping her passive and taking the blows. She said nothing.
Antioche stopped and sagged over Bremusa’s body. She was breathing hard and crying. “I know that the fucker had a gun on me but you shouldn’t have. You shouldn’t. What if-” her throat dried up, and she stopped talking.
Melousa went to Bremusa’s bike and took the rifle out of its side-holster. She clicked the weapon open and checked the chamber. What she saw was apparently enough to give her courage, and she showed it to her leader, whispering but making sure she was heard, “It was empty. The shotgun was empty, Antioche.”
Antioche stared blankly at it and then at Bremusa underneath her. She wiped her fingers on Bremusa’s bloodied lips and shook the droplets off into the ground. Then she stood up and said, “That’ll do for tribute.”
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“What kind of a stupid name is Viko anyway?” Orestes asked.
“Well, you know. It’s probably generated through mountains of data and statistical analysis to cover as wide an audience as possible with multicultural appeal,” Aura said and munched on her gyro.
“Plus the Japanese girls,” Orestes added.
“Puh! Yeah! They are like, crazy. If they grab onto a celeb, he becomes a mega-celebrity in like a day.”
Orestes thought about that. “There’s a mountain peak you know named Viko. I think it used to have mineral water and stuff.”
“Then it suits him just fine! His brains are inflated! Ha,” she said, and they both laughed. She cut the laughter earlier than he did, bit on her gyro and decided to take down that poster from her room.
They had escaped together, Orestes had come and made up an excuse for them to ditch her dad’s party. They went a few blocks down to a nice gyro place, for fast-food. They were just sitting outside on the chairs and enjoying the sun. They were both famous enough to make some heads turn and produce hushed tones, but people had seen them plenty of times.
Everything loses its glamour at some point.
Orestes was more loved by his audience. She was the black sheep. The rebellious teen. He was kind and talented.
“Why are we buddies?” Aura asked.
Orestes frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, why are we friends? Why do we hang around? I’m nothing like your pals at the band, I’m not a good singer nor will I ever be, I’m certainly not making your PR firm happy by being seen with you…”
“Stop. Right there, stop. Aura, do you really think I care about all that? We’ve been friends for years, since we were kids. We grew up together. I care about you. Today, when you freaked out-”
“-I came to you, even though it’s silly having a reaction like that to a plain old dad-party for soft-drinks. Here we are having fast-food when there are caterers at your house preparing dishes with names I cannot pronounce and cooking amounts large enough to feed an army. I’m your friend, I don’t mince my words in telling you when you’re being stupid, but I’m there for you.”
Aura stared at her feet intently, and whispered, “Thank you.”
“I’m not that shallow to stop being your friend because my approval ratings might go down. People either like my music or they don’t. They can go to hell otherwise.”
Aura managed to look him in the eyes and smiled. “You don’t mean that.” She was tearing up.
“Okay, I’d never say that to anyone. What I mean is my fans don’t care about that, and they are my fans precisely because I don’t care about it either,” Orestes admitted.
Aura thought about it for a moment. “I just don’t want to ruin anything for you. Music is your life, I’d never forgive myself if I was to damage that.”
“Don’t worry,” Orestes said and gave her a reassuring smile.
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Music school was a daily torture for Aura. Perhaps as equally a torture as was her screeching voice in her professor’s ears. Another day, another test, another torture.
Aura Nightingale, daughter of the world-famous Nightingale couldn’t possibly have had anything less than the same melodious voice as her father. People expected her to love singing with the same passion as him.
She knew the theory, the breathing, the exercises, the scales. O. o. O. o. ooo. She knew how she was supposed to sound like, even those filthy unloved drummers could manage a 6 out of 10 in song practice.
Aura would never fail her class, simply because her father wanted her not to. Despite her sounding like a lamb getting slaughtered with a blunt knife, the teachers would sign off a passing grade.
Her father was self-taught of course, or at least that was the back-story spun by Dionysos Entertainment, when he was discovered and signed an exclusivity contract. He had some coaching and seminars after that, but he was an authentic Greek folk singer. Raw and alive. Mitropanos meets Kazantzidis. That’s how he was fed to the public, and Dionysos had revived the traditional Greek song. His success was meteoric and raised Nightingale to the poster boy of Dionysos. The company provided everything to Aura’s poor family, and they gave back by building on the company’s myth.
So, when some suit at the Marketing department had the bright idea of making up for a bad sales quarter by having Aura sing-along, her fate was sealed.